2012 International AIDS Conference – Learning, Sharing and Connecting
By Carol Hyman on August 1, 2012
Being in the United States for the first time in 22 years had a profound effect on this year’s International AIDS Conference. With more than 21,000 delegates, it was a huge conference, with an overwhelmingly US presence. That is not to say there were not delegates from all over the world. Many from developing countries got scholarships and reduced registration so they could attend.
Many of the presentations were technical or academic, so I tended toward attending those that were more relevant, or at least, interesting to me. Besides HIV and AIDS, many sessions were devoted to the rise of Hepatitis C and TB, and their link to HIV.
It is interesting to note that the US National Institutes of Health is recommending anyone born in the US between 1945 and 1965 get tested for Hep C. It is a disease that can remain silent for years, and by the time symptoms present is much harder to treat. And like HIV, HepC carries stigma with it, perhaps even greater than that of HIV. In addition, because it does not have a vocal community encouraging and demanding better treatment, it has not received the attention HIV has received, despite infecting many more people.
In addition to attending sessions, I spent a great deal of time in the Global Village, which was also open to the public. It was an area full of music, dancing and high energy among its participants and spectators. The organizers referred to it as the “heart” of the conference, and I agree. It was a large, bustling area full of energy and smiles. I was heartened to see many young people in their teens in attendance, many as volunteers with Planned Parenthood. Organizations from around the world were represented, and there was a marketplace selling items to raise funds for grassroots AIDS organizations as well as the people who were making the goods.
I purchased two beautiful baskets made by women in Rwanda who are HIV positive, or at risk of becoming infected. Every dollar made went directly to these women. And while I have more t-shirts than anyone would ever need in two lifetimes, I purchased one from Housing Works, the New York City based group that provides and lobbies for homeless people with HIV, as well as a beautiful t-shirt made by people in prison in Haiti.
Besides spending money and listening to panels and presentations, I spent a lot of time meeting people who are fighting the good fight to bring an end to this epidemic. I had dinner with the staff and a group of bloggers with thebody.com and left with more energy and focus. While most of us felt that media was making way too big a deal of being close to a cure, we did feel great progress is being made in treatment, and cure or a vaccine is no longer out of reach.
I got a chance to tell many people about the Positive Pedalers, and they were encouraged, and oftentimes amazed, that HIV positive cyclists were not only raising a lot of money, but were able to bicycle days on end to raise awareness.
The next International AIDS Conference, in 2014, will be in Melbourne, Australia. I’m already hatching plans with the people I met from AIDS organizations in Australia to hold a ride from Sydney to Melbourne before the ride. They think it’s a great idea, and we’re already looking into the feasibility.